‘Largely irrelevant’: IOC’s Dick Pound dismisses lack of spectators at Olympics

A Canadian senior member of the International Olympic Committee is dismissing the lack of public spectators at the Tokyo Olympics as “irrelevant.”

The COVID-19 pandemic means no members of the public can watch events live, but Dick Pound told the CBC on Thursday in Tokyo that shouldn’t affect the competitions and ceremonies themselves.

“The crowd is largely irrelevant. And every once in a while you give them some lights to wave around,” Pound said, referencing Friday’s opening ceremony, in an interview with CBC News’ Adrienne Arsenault on The National.

While the 68,000-seat Tokyo Olympic Stadium will be devoid of public spectators for the opening ceremony, an estimated 10,000 government and IOC officials are expected to be in attendance.

WATCH | Pound discusses fans, restrictions on The National:

Adrienne Arsenault speaks to International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound about banning spectators and his worries about the public’s opinion of the Games. 4:36

“If you have the president and secretary of seven international sports federations, I don’t think the world is going to end. I mean, someone may try to make a mountain out of that molehill,” Pound said.

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Earlier, the Canadian Olympic Committee announced that just 30-40 athletes of a contingent of 370 would participate in the opening ceremony due to various health and safety protocols.

“Due to the Olympic Village arrival rules outlined in the Tokyo 2020 Playbooks, athletes are only arriving in the Village five days before they compete. This means that there are less athletes in the Village and that most of them are on the verge of competing,” said Eric Myles, COC chief sport officer.

Pound added that the ceremony is a made-for-TV event that shouldn’t be negatively affected by the missing crowd. Meanwhile, events such as softball and soccer have already begun in empty stadiums.

“Ninety-nine point five per cent of the people around the world, maybe more, will experience Tokyo through television or some other electronic platform. They don’t care whether there are spectators in the crowd or not. The focus will be on the action. And you can create crowd noise, we’ve seen it in North America. You can fake it.”

Arsenault noted the presence of athletes’ family and friends could not just be replicated.

“You can’t fake the moms and dads, that’s for sure. And that’s disappointing,” Pound said.

‘If [outbreak] happens, it happens’

Pound also indicated he wasn’t overly worried about a potential COVID-19 outbreak. A total of 91 people accredited for the Tokyo Games have tested positive since the beginning of July.

“If that happens, it happens. But non-competing in that context is not a boycott, that’s a health issue that it’s too bad for that particular country, but the health and safety of everybody else is even more important,” he said.

Instead, Pound said he was more concerned about public opinion on Tokyo 2020 being swayed by social media.

“If people see that [social-media users] just totally uninformed then they can become irrelevant and that’s really what you hope.”

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